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California To Close State's Last Nuclear Power Plant


California's last nuclear power plant will be shut down. Pacific Gas and Electric announced today that the Diablo Canyon plant will close in 2025 before it reaches the end of its useful life. It's a big win for some environmentalists, but others say the company is giving up on a clean energy source. Lauren Sommer of KQED in San Francisco reports.

LAUREN SOMMER, BYLINE: The end of nuclear power in California is something Linda Seeley has been fighting for for 40 years.

LINDA SEELEY: Right up there, we've got tons of highly radioactive waste sitting.

SOMMER: Seeley and I are at the front gate of the Diablo Canyon power plant. It's right on the coast in central California. Seeley is with a group called Mothers for Peace, and she was one of thousands of protesters here in the early 1980s trying to stop the nuclear plant from opening. Right now she's inching her foot across a blue line on the pavement that says no trespassing.

SEELEY: When you wanted to commit civil disobedience, you would intentionally walk across the blue line.

SOMMER: Which Seeley did and was arrested twice. She's been fighting nuclear ever since because she sees safety risks like the ones at the Fukushima Daiichi plant that melted down in Japan five years ago. But some other environmentalists, like Michael Shellenberger, have changed their mind.

MICHAEL SHELLENBERGER: Nuclear is just a huge part of moving towards a cleaner electrical system.

SOMMER: Shellenberger is a long-time environmental activist who started his own organization because he thinks nuclear power can be one solution to climate change. Nuclear doesn't put out carbon dioxide like burning coal and natural gas do.

SHELLENBERGER: You start to have these questions about who you are. You know, I'm feeling really attracted to nuclear power now. I'm starting to feel a little shame about it.

SOMMER: Shellenberger tried to save Diablo Canyon, but Pacific Gas and Electric plans to shut it down in nine years. The utility is switching to renewable energy like solar and wind at other sites around California as state policy requires. Shellenberger has his doubts.

SHELLENBERGER: You cannot power the world on wind and solar.

SOMMER: Wind and solar only work when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. So California fills in the gaps with power from fossil fuels like natural gas. Shellenberger says his fight is far from over. More than a dozen nuclear plants around the country are also looking at shutting down early. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Sommer in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Sommer covers climate change for NPR's Science Desk, from the scientists on the front lines of documenting the warming climate to the way those changes are reshaping communities and ecosystems around the world.

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